Move over Clint Eastwood, there's a new gunslinger in town. Ace Whitehead is his name and he's a multi-sport athlete at Lampasas High School. He jumped on the Central Texas scene as a freshman and sophomore, and turned up the dial so much as a junior that his public profile sits at a personal high going into his senior year.
It started with the 2019 Texas high school football season, when he recorded his best year to date with 4,982 yards and 75 touchdowns. He ultimately quarterbacked the Badgers' football team to its first UIL state semifinal appearance in 33 years.
"I think the most memorable thing was just how we came together as brothers and let everybody know what we're about here," said Whitehead. "We didn't listen to the outside noise or whatever. We just came together as a unit and gave it our all each Friday night."
But, Whitehead's on-the-field play wasn't alone in putting him on the map. He also received statewide attention for his unique name. Twitter users have described it as "QB Name of the Year" and a "quintessential Texas HS QB name", and it's been featured in media stories like the one you're reading.
Not getting to play their final season of high school baseball has been something very tough for seniors.
On April 17, 2020, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) cancelled all spring sports after Texas Governor Greg Abbott mandated that all schools remain closed through the rest of the 2019-2020 school year due to risks of COVID-19. This announcement left many Texas high school baseball teams with countless "what ifs," as they could only imagine what the rest of their season would have been like. One team in particular that stands out as a group of guys who had high hopes for this season is Strake Jesuit.
Seven seniors and many underclassmen with lots of experience, the Crusaders had a smooth groove heading into district play back in March. From the players, it seemed like this would be the season where all the puzzle pieces had fit together, so that they could make a run for State. Every senior on the team had some varsity experience from the previous season. When the team received word of their season's end in a Zoom call, disappointment scattered around, as they would not get the chance to achieve their goals.
Despite all of the hype around this year's team, it was not their talent and goals that the Crusaders were most concerned about losing. Many of the seniors were just disappointed in not getting to play with each other again. The realization that such a close bond on this team would be broken apart when the seniors head their separate ways became very evident.
Head Coach Raul Garcia-Rameau stated "Yes, there is talent, but this group really liked being around each other and showed a lot of passion for the game of baseball, as they came everyday ready, whether it was in the fall, running, practice, or games." One of Jesuit's aces, Drew Leach, mentioned in a Zoom interview with Vype U Ambassador Robert Gonsoulin, "It wasn't really our talent that brought us together. We're all super good friends. I think that's why we kind of 'glued the team together,' as coach put it."
In the interview, Leach reflects on his baseball career at Strake Jesuit and talks about how much he would have liked to play his last season of high school ball with his friends, despite moving on to the next level to play at his dream school, Baylor. "It's like playing with your best friends. It's missing if you don't do it," he said when asked about getting to play one more time in a Jesuit uniform.
The full interview can be viewed here.
Leach will not be the only stand-out athlete departing from this team at the end of the school year. Senior shortstop Dylan Campbell, who was also a phenom at carrying the football for Strake Jesuit, will be heading to Austin to play baseball for the University of Texas. Left-handed pitcher and outfielder Ryan Garcia will also be playing baseball at the collegiate level after committing to St. Edward's University in April. And infielder and pitcher Conner Young will be playing football for Rhodes College.
The Class of 2020 will leave a lasting imprint on Strake Jesuit's baseball program. Coach Garcia-Rameau talked about how this group of players affected him as a coach, saying "As I know now that the season is over and reflect back, this group of seniors made a huge impact on this program, so as a coach, that's what I've got to remember these guys for….These guys will not be forgotten as we move forward."
Aside from losing the opportunity to coach this year's team, Garcia-Rameau is grateful for the careful measures that the UIL has taken during this time. "The decision to cancel the season was a tough one, and the UIL held on to that as long as they could, and we appreciate that."
Some underclass players even added a few words to commemorate the senior class and this team as a whole.
2021 RHP Caleb Garcia-Rameau: "I really appreciated the seniors leading and showing what a team should be like and bringing all of us together."
2021 SS/2B Andy Leon: "This year's team was something special. As a group, we had so much fun, and it was all led by our seniors. I've never laughed so much on a baseball field in my life---and all while we were on a nine game winning streak. The seniors this year were special all in their own ways, and that is what made it so fun."
For the last question in Drew Leach's interview, he was asked to say one word or a group of words that described the Class of 2020's players. He answered with no doubt, "Brotherhood."